For more than two decades, Daniel Joseph Martinez has tackled questions of race, identity and the body in his multidisciplinary work. The four large photographs, three mixed-medium sculptures and two neon signs in this exhibition evidence a new vein of inquiry: the nature of contemporary faith. Slavoj Žižek's slim but illuminating volume On Belief could serve as a companion text to this excellent and thought-provoking show; like Žižek, Martinez ruminates on the body and faith in the digital age, repudiating easy answers and commonly held assumptions.
The photographs (each 74 by 60 inches), collectively titled A Story for Tomorrow in 4 Chapters, Dostoevsky Loved the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Muhammad Ali and Dandelions, Lick my hunch! (2010-12), depict the artist, enhanced by prosthetics, stage makeup and an oversize mask, as a shirtless, hunchbacked man. Prominently tattooed across his chest and both arms are sacred prayers-in Arabic, Hebrew and Latin-of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. He wears dark pants hitched up with a rope, evoking a prophet or a beggar. In one image, he is seen from the back, wearing a bishop's miter, his torso leaning to one side in a position reminiscent of a pietà. In another, he kneels on a prayer rug, bent forward to expose the top of the mask, which has cracked and broken, revealing the flimsy wire supports beneath. The photographs incarnate three interrelated ideas that reverberated throughout the exhibition: the shared roots and values of the three religions; the embattled position of faith, religious and secular, in contemporary life; and the long and tragic history of violence in the name of religion.
Who Killed Liberty, Can You Hear That, It's the Sound of Inevitability, The Sound of Your Own Death (2012) is an ambitious sculptural installation featuring a white fiberglass Statue of Liberty that horizontally impales a gallery wall. The statue's head and torso appeared in a smaller gallery, while its feet and base protruded into the main space. The sculpture's surface resembles layers of bandages and appears cracked in places, suggesting the tenuousness and perseverance of the ideals the icon represents. On its base is a square mirror. Whether the work invites viewers into liberty's fold or implicates them in her perilous position clearly depends on the life experiences of the person reflected in it.
The clear plastic of Riot Shield (Butter), 2012, readily calls to mind the social upheaval of recent years, including the current crisis in Syria. Painted on the shield, in blue, is the word POLICE and, in yellow, an odd text concluding with: "I eagerly await the end of the world, as we know it." The final phrase bears the weight of faith, shifting the tone from apocalyptic foreshadowing to belief in the possibility of social progress.
Photo: Daniel Joseph Martinez: A Story for Tomorrow in 4 Chapters, Dostoevsky Loved the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Muhammad Ali and Dandelions, Lick my hunch!, 2010-12, one of four pigment prints with UV coating, 74 by 60 inches each; at Roberts & Tilton.